Coming off a close win over Mississippi State in Starkville, the LSU Tigers (1-0) are a team with plenty of talent on both sides of the ball thanks to a load of top recruiting classes under Coach Les Miles. As usual the Bengal Tigers are loaded on defense, but the star power for this team is on the offensive side of the ball led by big sophomore running back Leonard Fournette.
When LSU Has The Ball
Already with six 100-yard rushing games in his career (LSU is 5-1 in those contests), the 6-1, 230 Fournette ran for 159 yards and scored three touchdowns on 28 carries against the Bulldogs. With physical Darrell Williams (6-0, 232) also very capable of carrying the load, LSU’s two-headed monster will present a big challenge for Auburn’s front seven on Saturday.
Getting off the field on third downs will be a huge point of emphasis for Auburn on what promises to be a hot and muggy day in Tiger Stadium. Without much depth on the defensive front Auburn needs to have success on first and second downs and put quarterback Brandon Harris in obvious passing situations.
Doing that might hold the key for Auburn’s defense with Harris (6-3, 206) still finding his legs as a starting quarterback. Last week he completed just 9-14 passes for 71 yards in the win at Mississippi State, but didn’t turn the ball over and managed the offense. Adding 48 yards rushing on five attempts Harris has the ability to make plays with his legs as well, but hasn’t been a prolific runner up to this point.
Starting one game as a true freshman Harris actually had a solid year in 2014, completing 25-42 passes for 452 yards and six touchdowns with just two interceptions, but really struggled in that start against Auburn. Starting in Jordan-Hare Stadium a year ago he was just 3-14 for 52 yards in a 41-7 loss.
Harris has plenty of weapons at his disposal at wide receiver however with Malachi Dupre (6-3, 190), John Diarse (6-1, 209) and speedy Travin Dural (6-2, 203) all very capable of breaking the big play on the perimeter.
Up front the strength of the LSU offensive line is at the three most important positions with left tackle Jerald Hawkins, right tackle Vadal Alexander and center Ethan Pocic all potential all-conference performers for the Bengal Tigers. With Hawkins checking in at 6-6, 305, Alexander at 6-6, 320 and Pocic at 6-7, 309, the trio have plenty of size to move the line. Throw in right guard Josh Boutte (6-5, 342) and left guard Maea Teuhema (6-5, 327) and LSU can line up size-wise with anyone in the country.
When Auburn Has The Ball
On defense it’s the normal LSU defense waiting for Auburn in Baton Rouge, fast and very athletic. That starts up front where Davon Godchaux (6-4, 293) and Christian LaCouture (6-5, 307) are solid in the middle with senior Quentin Thomas (6-4, 313) a reserve at both spots. Outside former Auburn commitment Tashawn Bower (6-5, 240) and impressive freshman Arden Key (6-6, 231) are the guys that can bring pressure off the edge along with Lewis Neal (6-2, 264).
LSU’s linebacker group may be one of the best in the league this year with Kendell Beckwith (6-2, 252) a likely high draft pick if he decides to turn pro following this season. Surrounded by athletic Lamar Louis (5-11, 232) and Deion Jones (6-1, 227), Beckwith is a ballhawk that finished with 77 tackles a year ago in only seven starts.
Despite giving up over 300 passing yards a week ago LSU has a talented secondary led by corners Tre’Davious White (5-11, 191), Dwayne Thomas (6-0, 186) and Kevin Tolliver (6-2, 197). White is perhaps the best cornerback prospect in the SEC this year while Tolliver could be the next great one to come out of the LSU program at corner. Safeties Jamal Adams (6-1, 211) and Rickey Jefferson (6-0, 207) round out a very athletic group on the back end.
Keys To Victory
Last season Auburn dominated the line of scrimmage against LSU, outgaining the Bengal Tigers 298-138 on the ground. This year’s total doesn’t have to be that dominant, but for Coach Gus Malzahn’s offense to reach maximum potential they’ll have to run the ball early and often against an LSU defense that will likely stack the line of scrimmage to keep that from happening.
There’s no question that Jeremy Johnson has to throw the ball much better, but until Auburn’s running game can become more consistent that will continue to be a struggle. In Malzahn’s system the two go hand-in-hand, making Peyton Barber, Roc Thomas and company must-watch TV on Saturday.
Defensively the key is easy to spot but tough to do, slow down Fournette. Auburn has to put the ball in Harris’ hands and make him win the game throwing the football. He’s capable of doing just that, but if he throws for 300 yards and LSU wins then Auburn can only tip its cap and congratulate him. The one thing you have to avoid at all costs is allowing LSU to beat you running the football.